Ah, Mario. It's been a while... believe it or not it's been five years since Mario's last personal outing; Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube. Our hero has returned for his first Wii outing, in the form of Super Mario Galaxy.
Let's get something clear from the start: Galaxy is definitely not a straight forward successor to Sunshine, and that's a good thing. For me at least, Sunshine was good but way off great, something we've come to expect from Miyamoto and Mario.
You haven't played anything like Galaxy, that's fact. Miyamoto's genius has once again pulled out all the stops to create a entirely new Mario experience. What's his new play toy? Its quite simple... gravity. The Japanese developers have created a traditional 3d platform game with a huge emphasis on gravity, this concept is quite hard to explain in words, so you'll just have to play it to see what I mean.
As with any Mario game, the story doesn't really play a huge part... but what has Bowser done this time? Not to our surprise, he's kidnapped Princess Peach.. and recruiting the help of some UFOs he's managed to transport Peach's entire castle into outer space. The standard stuff, although we are treated to a so-so cut scene showing our princess being abducted by the villain.
When I first saw footage of Mario running around these tiny spheres I had quite strong doubts in my mind as to how it was going to work- what happened to the large 3D environments we're used to? My fears were almost instantly put to rest as I started to play Galaxy. Straight away gravity becomes Mario's closest ally as he jumps effortlessly between planets.
The controls are perhaps simpler than you might think, the analog stick on the nunchuck controls your movements, triggers a jump whilst a quick shake of the Wiimote causes a spin attack. The Wiimote pointer is also used in Galaxy, but thankfully not over used. It compliments the experience by the invention of “Star Bits"; yes, that's food for young stars. You use the Wiimote pointer to both collect star bits and using the button, shoot them back at enemies at any moment of gameplay
Once you've picked up the controls, which can take a little getting used to, seeing as you can now walk upside down, and caught a few pesky rabbits, you find yourself aboard the observatory- the central hub of Super Mario Galaxy. It's worth pointing out that this hub is nice and small unlike those of other recent platformers.
Scattered around the observatory are a number of domes, each dome grants access to a number of galaxies, and each galaxy has a number of stars available; these are the actual levels. Collecting stars is the name of the game, each level you complete gains you a star, and defeating a boss gives you a grand star which usually opens up another dome's worth of galaxies. Simple.
What the Dickens do I need stars for? For Mario, gaining 60 power stars will allow him to travel to the center of the universe to save his 'gal. That's right, fortunately for our hero it only requires 60 stars to initially finish the game.. however, there are an additional 60 stars available to complete the game and unlock a special reward.
Super Mario Galaxy is the truest 3D platform game I've come across since the original Mario 64. It has deep roots in platform action, not adventure.. I can't stress enough that this is not an adventure game. Sunshine sometimes felt like you were just running around collecting stars, Galaxy is so much better, every single level has been designed with platforming/puzzle/action in mind- obviously they vary in difficulty, but the bottom line is that platforming Mario is back and better than ever.
Along with difficulty, the level design also varies considerably along the way... sometimes you'll have a level spanning up to twenty tiny planets and others will simply be on one large planet. The classic “ice"and “fire" worlds are present along with the “haunted mansion", all in addition to new areas like dreadnought planets and bee hives.
Mario has also never had so many upgrades, even the “mega mushroom" is back, doubling your life from 3 hits to 6. Mario can now skate on ice, fly as a bee, disguise himself as a ghost, walk on a giant ball, freeze water with his feet, ride shells underwater, coil himself like a spring to achieve super jumps, and even shoot fireballs just like his Mario Bros days.
As usual with the infamous Nintendo Polish™, Miyamoto's team have presented the game with near perfection; the music, animation and graphics all pull together and produce the richest and most enjoyable Mario game ever. If I had any slight criticism of the game, the very first area in the prologue did feel slightly rushed, but little did that matter as the graphics and environments continued to get better and better the further into the game I played.
Super Mario Galaxy is a fantastic game, a game that displays Nintendo's continuing ambition to explore the possibilities of a 3D platformer, something that no-one else has really managed to do. It's considerably better than Super Mario Sunshine on all accounts, with the new emphasis on gravity it becomes once again a game that requires skill and timing rather than just an exploratory mind. This will be an instant hit and surely go down as one of the best Mario games. A must have for all.